Guest post: Should You Hire an Overqualified Applicant?

Hiring managers are receiving more applications for open positions than ever before. One reason is the recent economic recession: the U.S. and other countries around the world saw their unemployment rate rise. Additionally, the use of online applications makes it easier for job seekers to apply to more jobs faster. As a hiring manager, it is relatively simple to eliminate the applicants who don’t meet your qualifications, but should you also eliminate the overqualified applicants?  Recruiters typically do so, but there are several factors to consider:

First, how long would you like this applicant to stay in the open position?  There is evidence to support the common assumption that overqualified hires may leave the job faster, but on the other hand, their performance is often higher. Thus, the organization may gain value from these types of employees who make an impact quickly.

Second, how overqualified is the applicant?  Research suggests that the potential negative effects, such as lower job attitudes, are not likely to be present if the applicant is only slightly overqualified. This is especially true if the applicant is being groomed for an eventual promotion to a higher position within the organization.

Third, what is the context of the job?  Research has shown that negative effects of over-qualification can be tempered by several factors. For instance, if the overqualified employee is empowered, meaning that he or she receives lots of responsibility and autonomy in the job, job attitudes are similar to those who are not overqualified. Another important factor is the relationship between the supervisor and the overqualified employee: if this relationship is positive, the negative effects of over-qualification can dissipate.

So should you hire an overqualified applicant?  It depends on the length of time you want the applicant to stay in the position, the degree of over-qualification, and the context of the job. Most importantly, clearly communicating your expectations of the employee and other relevant factors at the start (e.g. potential for promotion later on) can go a long way in building a positive relationship with this newly hired individual.


Source: Erdogan, B., Bauer, T. N., Peiro, J. M., & Truxillo, D. M. (2011). Overqualified employees: Making the best of a potentially bad situation for individuals and organizations. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 4, 215-232.

About the author:

Kerry Goyette is the owner and president of Aperio Business Consulting, a human capital consulting firm based out of Columbia, Missouri. Before Aperio, Kerry was a private practicing therapist for over 14 years. She is a certified forensic interviewer with advanced training as an expert witness by the American Prosecutors Research Institute.